Bollywood Dreams – Call Centers Moving Overseas

During increasingly competitive times, isn’t it all too easy to simply cut overheads at any cost?

Overseas call center world map

It’s common knowledge that major names such as HSBC and British Airways have long since moved massive areas of their business such as call centres from the UK to countries such as India and Malaysia.

There are no doubt advantages to be gained, such as employee costs being slashed by up to 70%, however, before we all rush to relocate to the Far East, shouldn’t we take a closer look at the impact on both the customers and the potential resulting effect on our business?

Lets begin with the customers. I don’t know about you, but I have spoken to quite a few offshore centres and as someone who is rather passionate about levels of customer care, quite frankly, I’m concerned by the ‘conveyor belt’ over-scripted responses and total lack of understanding I received.

Here’s an example: When attempting an offshore directory enquiries service, I was recently greeted by an agent who called himself ‘Bob’ who asked me to spell the name of the business and city no less than four times! At premium rates charged by the second, I was less than amused, especially as the city I was asking for was London! I eventually resorted to an internet search.

Another recent one was a credit card lost and stolen line. If I dared as a caller to deviate from simply giving my card number, name and account number to the robotic and monotone agent, I was greeted with a very pregnant pause followed by a simple continuation of the script from where she left off! Of course that left me uttering the magic words ‘I want to speak to a team leader’, to which I was offered a similar script with a bland apology. I could go on, but I’m sure I’d bore you to tears!

Now please don’t assume by my comments so far that I am absolutely against offshoring, or indeed against the good people of India and Malaysia (I myself have recruited many staff with English as a 2nd language and their performance remains excellent) Furthermore, I do feel that certain backroom duties where such cost efficiencies are apparent can be good for the overall competitive stance of a business in the UK.

Having said that, there is a major culture and acceptability issue to be overcome when foreign based staff provide a front line customer service role to customers within the UK.

Going back to basics for a moment if I may, a core function of a contact centre is to provide a seamless one stop shop for all customer needs, often with one national contact number and a team of skilled and multiskilled agents receiving appropriately routed calls to deal with efficiently and with effectiveness.

Contact centres are there to make the journey from customer need to customer satisfaction a simple and comforting one where the customer leaves the call feeling satisfied and continually confident in their choice of supplier.

The reality though can sometimes be far from it.

I’m sure we’ve all heard about the rogue contact centres with more whip cracking than Doris Day and more pressure to perform than a fire extinguisher. Well, in my opinion, if they are not interested in customer focus, do they deserve our business? But what about those companies who may have willingly and blindly considered offshoring but now find themselves risking their whole business image simply through a desire to cut costs too far below an acceptable level?

There are solutions.

I recently dealt with a company who provided a core product with a number of bolt-ons. These additions were aimed at customer protection and quite valuable in terms of both income for the business and peace of mind for the customer.

Wouldn’t you think therefore that the company would be falling over themselves to mention their availability to the customer during the initial transaction? The answer amazingly was no.

The cross sales figures were a dismal 2%. It transpired that only a fraction of staff mentioned the add-ons. If there was just 25% take up of these additional provisions, the turnover of the centre would itself increase by 10%, not to mention affiliate commission and staff bonus.

Of course, not all business can simply cross sell it’s way into the black, however, before we look at cutting costs and shedding UK jobs, why not look at increasing profit and turnover with the valuable skills, customer base and resources already in place.

Companies will have invested 1000’s of pounds across recruitment, induction, ongoing training costs. Not to mention succession planning and incentives – and that’s only scratching the surface.

Why lose all that and alienate both exited staff and the customer base, only to begin the whole process again in countries with distinct development needs in terms of understanding and delivering the subject of customer care in the UK. Reducing costs is good for business, however what about maintaining the quality of service and good image that will have been so hard fought for.

Perhaps before we decide to make the move overseas, we could look at training staff to identify sales opportunities, consider retention issues and customer churn reduction ideas. Perhaps it’s simplifying the administrative process or altering customer access hours. Let’s ask our staff for suggestions. After all, the staff at the front line with the customers will have a wealth of knowledge and willingly provide concepts for service improvement.

Other ideas of cost efficiency have included locating within regeneration zones across the UK. These geographical areas are where employers can receive major government cash incentives for training staff and employing returnees to work.

Further considering business implications for a moment, what happens to the customer experience when a member of staff from a different culture doesn’t provide the standards of service expected by UK customers?

These people are the customer facing image makers who can make or break a company with both what they say and how they say it.

If as widely reported, the average UK call centre agent earns £12,200 per annum and their India based counterpart earns £1,200 per annum for the same job. How many customers would it take to lose £1000 per month to untrained and inexperienced staff missing an opportunity or solution. One basic holiday package, one loan or store card perhaps?

Turning the coin (so to speak), how much customer retention and upselling or cross selling would it take to increase the bottom line by just £250 per week assuming that the average UK agent may speak to perhaps 5 customers per hour.

When considering this, would you trust your company to a contact centre 1000’s of miles away, from a different culture and who only acted within the confines of the script in front of them?

I know there will be many debates unfolding on this subject, and I have only scratched the peak of the surface today. As I write this, there are threats of strikes, customer boycotts and even damage to the economy through jobs vanishing from this country.

Isn’t it time British business stood up and fought for good old fashioned British customer service and the retention of British jobs?

About the Author

Jason Jesson is a recognized leader in Customer Service, Experience and Retention offering over two decades of improving customer relationships from startups to FTSE100 companies.

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